In an engaging piece on the Jessica Kingsley Publishers blog Vanessa Rogers sets out in search of youth work. Her starting point – in my view a partial myth beloved of our work - is that we are misunderstood. However she is right to note the significant shift in the roles being played by youth workers today as compared to fifteen years ago. She comments that “what constitutes ‘youth work’ has changed so many times that it can now be tagged on to virtually any service that works with young people”.
Echoing many of our concerns about the diminishing of youth work as voluntary informal education she wonders:
Perhaps it is that so many people now describe themselves as ‘youth workers’, whilst working in areas more traditionally associated with social workers or youth justice? I have even spoken with police officers that say they do ‘youth work’. Really? Are the professional boundaries so completely enmeshed? Please note this isn’t about professional qualifications, or even the lack of them, more a questioning of how the ethos of voluntary participation and the gradual process of building positive relationships and engaging and empowering young people fits within a law and order or social care framework.
In her closing remarks she challenges us.
So I think it is time for youth workers to stand up and reclaim youth work by celebrating how different it is to other work with young people. It should be seen as a whole, not as a useful pick’n’mix to complement other services, and defined in our own terms – whether that is through a Youth Work Academy or some other collective process – before someone else does it for us.
Well said, Vanessa, although there are those, who have been trying tirelessly to redefine who and what we are for some years now. In our campaign we continue to make the case for youth work as a distinctive site of practice. In this light we are working with the Choose Youth Partners towards the possibility of an early November conference, ‘The Future of Youth Work? The Future of Services for Young People’, which will grapple hopefully with the questions raised in Vanessa’s piece, including the purpose of the proposed Institute of Youth Work – more news very soon.
In Search of Youth Work, In Defence of Youth Work, Reclaiming Youth Work – a collective process that needs all of us to be actively involved.